Barely had I closed my eyes for what I had told myself would be a quick nap when I felt someone nudging my elbow lightly. It was Countess. “Wakey-wakey, probate,” she said. “We’re home free, baby. We’re back.”
“Really? That quick?” I asked back. I looked around and saw that we were in the middle of a grassy field. A couple of rusting abandoned cars were scattered around the field along with a lot of… oil barrels, I guess you could call it. A train’s horn sounded off in the distance. “Wait a minute; I thought we were going to Toronto,” I said.
“This is Toronto,” Genius replied. “Or at least it’s the GTA. It may not look like it but we’re inside the GTA right now.”
“Oh, God,” I muttered, wiping away the grime at the corners of my eyes. “How long was I out?”
“The better part of two hours, prospect,” Countess replied. “Genius and I talked about it, and we decided to just let you catch a few Zs, because God knows that you’ve earned it, what with all the shit that went down yesterday and the day before. Now let’s get out so LaF can wipe this truck down.”
As I was the one closest to the door, I had the responsibility of getting out first. I opened the door and jumped out, but as I did so I heard Carmilla mutter, “Oh, shit.”
“What! What is it now?” I asked with barely restrained frustration. Why can’t everything I do just be done and other with? I wanted to ask myself.
“Prospect, you got some blood on your seat!”
“What!?” I immediately turned to look behind me to see if my monthly visitor had decided to pay me a surprise visit. I’ve had a fairly regular cycle since two years after my first period, but like many other girls out there, I’ve learned to never trust my own body, especially in situations like this.
“No, not there, you dummy!” Carmilla said. “Higher! Much higher than that!”
My hands went up from my butt to my head, and that was where I felt something sticky clinging to both my fingers and my hair. I looked at my hand and saw the fingertips coated with dark reddish brown blood.
“Goddamn it,” LaFontaine muttered. “Now I gotta do more than just wipe this truck down. Now I gotta bleach it as well!”
“Hey, I’m sorry that I bled all over the truck, okay!” I said. “But in case you haven’t noticed, I didn’t exactly have medical professionals tending to me after what happened last night!”
“All right, everyone, that’s it. Enough!” Countess said, stepping in between me and Genius. “Cutter, just get out here. Get out of here before things escalate. And you, Genius, zip it. We all got hurt out there, not just you or her. Everybody calm down, and then we’ll do the thing.”
“Okay,” I said, raising my hands to my shoulders. “You sure that you don’t want the prospect to help you out with that?”
“You’ve already done enough damage as it is, prospect,” Genius retorted. “I don’t need you fucking this up even further.”
“LaF! I said cool it!” Carmilla said pointedly. But I knew that I wasn’t needed here, so I slowly backed away from the two of them, but I made sure to keep facing both of them until I was reasonably sure that I was far enough away before I turned my back on them and ran off. Not that I thought that either Countess or Genius was going to shoot me in the back as I walked away, but you can never be too sure, especially in my line of work. In any case, no gunshot rang out and I didn’t feel anything hit me in the back or in the leg or wherever. Looks like I’m finally home free. For the moment, that is.
I started walking in the direction of a gas station that I had seen the night before, when we had rode out to do our business. I wanted to get to the restroom there, but not to actually use the toilet there (unless I wanted to get an STD or something just as nasty). No, what I wanted to use there was the sink, so I could wash away the blood that had stuck to my head along with whatever else I might have picked up on my midnight road surfing.
Getting there wasn’t easy though. As I walked, I could feel this kind of strange pain somewhere on my lower back every time I took a step with my right foot. Like every time I put my foot down on the ground, this pain shoot straight up my leg to my lower back. I don’t think it had anything to do with a broken foot; the fact that I could walk threw that theory right out the window. But most probably I had been banged up by my wipeout last night more than either me or Carmilla could tell. Anyway, it was disconcerting and bothersome, but it didn’t stop me from getting to that gas station like I had planned.
By the time I got there though, my lower back was sore and throbbing. I tried rubbing and massaging the part where I could feel the pain the most as best as I could, but the pain just wouldn’t go away. And when I tried to angle my head down into the sink so that the water from the faucet would hit me right where I had felt the dried blood, my back refused to cooperate. Any little bending or curvature of the spine resulted in immense pain for me. Stars were literally shooting out of my eyes because of the pain. But I gritted my teeth and braced myself. You are gonna clean up your head even if it means that you get a shot back, I told myself. I took a deep breath and plunged my head underneath the water flowing from the faucet, taking care not to pick at the scabs that had formed on my scalp, accidentally or not.
I don’t know for how long I stood there bent over the sink trying to wash the blood out of my hair. And I didn’t hear anyone come into the restroom while I was doing that, and even then I can only imagine what they would have thought had they seen me like that. But eventually I felt satisfied that I had washed out as much of the blood from my hair as I could, and I stood up to look at myself in the mirror. There were gray bags under my eyes, and my hair was a wet and bedraggled mess. You need to get some rest, and quickly, girl, I told myself.
I used up all of the tissue in the dispenser to dry off my hair, but only because the sheets were one-ply and basically tore themselves apart as soon as I touched them to my hair. But I eventually got my hair dry, if even only just to say that it was dry. My roots and my scalp were still quite wet, but maybe that was sweat and not the tap water. Well, if this was as good as it’s going to get then why bother trying? I shrugged to myself to say that it was no big deal, and then I walked out of the restroom and towards the nearby bus stop. Good thing I had enough money on me to take me to the stop nearest to my apartment. If I hadn’t had the change to afford the bus trip then I would have had to walk all the way from wherever Genius had dumped the truck to my apartment, and with the strange pain on my lower back, I probably would have ended up crawling my way back on my hands and knees.
I went into the apartment and headed straight for the fridge. I took out the ice tray, popped out all of the cubes, put the cubes into a plastic bag, and slapped that bag onto my lower back. I sighed as the cold touched my skin and soothed the low throbbing pain, and I stuck the bag under my clothes and laid down stomach first on my bed. Oh, the things I do to make it through another day. I sighed once again and closed my eyes, letting my thoughts drift to wherever they wanted to go. Suddenly, I remembered that strange black cat that I had seen the night before, that big cat that had taken out the Lazyboy who was about to finish me off. I was halfway between thinking that it was just a hallucination, but then again it had felt so real to me at the time…
My eyes opened at the sound of someone knocking on the door. I looked around blearily, trying to figure out what time it was. Some time definitely must have passed because the bag of ice on my back was now a plastic bag filled with somewhat cool water and some chips of ice that stubbornly refused to melt. I tossed the bag aside and made to answer the door. My back still hurt with every other step I took, but nothing like the first time I had experienced it. “Who is it?” I called out as I put my hand on the door knob.
“It’s your father, Laura. Didn’t you get my text?”
I wrenched the door open and leaned on the frame. “Hey, Dad?” I said. “How’s it going?”
“Laura, you look like hell,” Dad said in reply. “What the hell happened to you?”
“If I look like hell, then that must be why I feel like shit,” I replied. “I’ve just been through a very rough last few days, Dad. I’d really rather not talk about it.”
“Sure, sure. But aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“Oh, shoot, Dad. I’m so sorry. I’m just so distracted. Sure, come on in,” I said as I stepped aside. Dad walked into my apartment. He was carrying a dark blue duffel bag with the logo of the Toronto Police Department on it. He laid down this bag on the nearest available space, which happened to be one of the three chairs in what I could barely bring myself to call my “living room”. “Didn’t you get my text, Laura?” he asked me again as he sat down in the second seat. “I told you I was coming like, three times already. When I didn’t get a reply, I… actually I didn’t know what to think.”
“Don’t worry about me too much, Dad; I’m fine,” I said. “I already told you, the last few days have been really rough for me. I must have been asleep when you texted me because I haven’t heard a thing from my phone.” Now would probably be not a good time to say that I broke my phone while I was skidding along a dark country road being chased by some bikers.
Dad nodded his head. “Okay, I get that,” he said. And then he saw the wet spot on my back that had been formed by my improvised ice pack. “Um, aren’t you a little too old to be wetting the bed?” he asked. “I thought you had already grown out of that when you were seven.”
“It’s not what you think it is, Dad,” I said. I then explained to him the ice pack and how I had literally just thrown it away before I answered the door to let him in. Dad nodded his head in understanding. “Yeah, growing old sucks, doesn’t it?” he said.
“Well, I wouldn’t know,” I muttered. “You want anything to eat or drink?”
“Surprise me. Whatcha got?”
I looked around in my fridge, trying to find that I could share with Dad. “I got some yoghurt and some soy milk,” I called out. “You want any of that?”
“Yeah, sure, that’s fine,” Dad replied. I walked back to the living room carrying the yoghurt and the soy milk. Dad took the milk, unscrewed the cap and took a few swigs before he put it down on the table and opened the yoghurt. “So I heard that Captain Vordenburg tried to offer you a job with the PD,” he said, making it sound more like a question than a statement.
“I mean, you heard right,” I replied, digging into my own yoghurt. “He offered me what he called a ‘clerical position’. I figured that he meant something like being an intern or a secretary. I didn’t take it. It’s not really the kind of job I want.”
“Well, that’s a shame,” Dad muttered. “I was kind of hoping that maybe you would actually take the job. I’d say that you need it.”
“Come on, Dad. Are we really gonna have this conversation again?” I asked.
“Not if we don’t have to,” Dad said. “I’m just saying that you had a chance to do something much more than just typing up and mailing articles to websites for cash.”
“You’re trying to make this conversation happen again, Dad,” I said. “Stop trying to make it happen. It’s not going to happen.”
“All right, Laura, if you say so,” Dad nodded. We both then ate our yoghurt in awkward silence for a few minutes before Dad decided to break it again. “But are you happy? Are you happy with what you’re doing right now?”
“Dad,” I said, looking up from my yoghurt. “What kind of a question is that?”
“A serious one. Are you happy with what you’re doing right now? Is this what you’ve always dreamed of doing?”
“Of course not, Dad,” I replied. “I want to be an international correspondent. I want to be the girl that the major networks and newspapers send all over the world to cover elections, natural disasters, revolutions, that kind of thing. But I also know that I have to start from somewhere, and that’s why I’m where I am right now.”
“But don’t you want to do something else? Don’t you want to do something better than what you’re doing right now?”
“Of course I want to do better, Dad!” I shouted. “I want to be an actual journalist, not just some nightcrawler who gets paid by some two-bit low-traffic Internet news aggregator start-up by the article, and even then sometimes I don’t get paid on time, if at all. But I can’t. You wanna know why, Dad? It’s because of my freaking diploma! No self-respecting publication is gonna even come near me with a ten-foot pole, and all because I was a graduate of Silas University! I mean, what the actual fuck!? I’m just a student there. I didn’t do anything. I don’t even know why they got closed down! Why am I and all the other alumni paying for the sins of the board?”
“Okay, what’s with the screaming at me all of a sudden, Laura?” Dad asked me calmly, or at least as calmly as he could make himself appear. “I didn’t do anything to you.”
“I know, Dad. I’m sorry,” I sighed as I slumped back on my seat, hands on my head. “I just needed to vent.”
“I understand,” he nodded. “Feels good to finally have that off your chest?”
“Yeah,” I nodded sheepishly. “I didn’t even know I’ve been keeping all that bottled up for all this time.”
“But you did finally get it out, and that’s what matters,” Dad said. “Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
I thought about the other things that I could talk about with my father. My time as a biker and an undercover agent, the real job that Captain Vordenburg had offered me, was one thing I definitely could not talk about with Dad. Not only would it give Dad an aneurysm if he found out, but he would also probably, definitely go after Vordenburg and tell him, no, demand that I be taken off the case immediately. And that would only increase the drama that I was already living through.
“Yeah, no, I don’t think there’s anything else I wanna talk about,” I said.
Right at that moment, my phone vibrated. I took it out of my pocket and looked at the message. It was from the website asking for yet another article. “You still haven’t paid for the last one, assholes,” I muttered at my phone. “Go find someone else to not pay!”
“What’s up?” Dad asked.
“Nothing, just the guys asking for yet another article from me,” I shrugged.
“Whoa, what the hell happened to your phone?” Dad said as he leaned over to look at the cracked screen of my phone. “Tell me the truth, Laura,” he told me sternly, eyes locked onto mine. “What happened to you? Did you get into a fight or an accident or something that you’re not telling me about?”
“Um, yeah, about that,” I mumbled as I tried to come up with a plausible story about my busted-up phone that would both sound realistic enough for Dad to not question it and also not make him go ballistic at the same time. Well, I did read somewhere that some of the best lies are often based on the truth or even just a half-truth. “I, uh, picked up a second job a little while back,” I explained. “You already know how I’m not getting paid regularly, if at all, by the Internet guys. I heard about this delivery service looking to hire some part-time riders, and I just… jumped at the chance.”
“A parcel delivery service?” Dad asked. “Those guys running around town in bicycles and mopeds? Also, I didn’t know that you can ride a bike, Laura,” Dad said, his intonation with the last sentence making it clear that that was a question and not just a statement. “Since when?”
“I don’t, Dad,” I replied. “At least not that well. That’s why I wiped out and busted up my phone during the training session. Damn near busted up the Piaggio too. Good thing they didn’t make me pay for the damages because I just couldn’t have afforded it.”
“So let me get this straight,” Dad said as he absorbed my words. “You’re going after a second job ‘cause you’re not getting paid on time by your first job, and even though you don’t even know how to ride a tiny-ass moped, the employer of your second job still decided to take you on board.”
“It’s not yet official,” I clarified. “But at this point, they don’t have a choice. Nobody really wants to do it except for the real desperate people, and I guess I’m one of those desperate people. Also, don’t blow your gasket just yet, Dad. It’s not like I’m joining a biker gang, right?”
Dad had to laugh at my attempt at a joke. “Yeah, maybe you’ve got a point there,” he conceded with a smile. “Look, if you’re going to be running around town on a bike or a moped, just be careful, all right? They may look small and harmless but they’re actually dangerous, mopeds. I don’t know the actual statistics but there are a lot more accidents involving mopeds right here in Toronto than you might think. So just be very, very careful with them, okay? Oh, and speaking of biker gangs, if you find yourself about to meet a bunch of them, just stay the freaking hell away, okay? Being a courier is already dangerous enough as it is.”
“Okay, I’ll try to remember that,” I nodded.
We talked about a few other things after that, but not a lot more. Dad urged me to reconsider Vordenburg’s offer to me, not knowing that I had actually said yes (although I wasn’t about to tell him about Vordenburg’s real offer). After some awkward goodbyes, Dad left my apartment, and once he was gone I sat down to catch my breath. Believe it or not, this was the first time in a long time that I had lied to my father, lied right to his face, and I was shocked by how easy it had been. It was so easy for me to feed my father that line of bullshit about becoming a courier as my second job. What was I becoming? Was lying about to become as easy and automatic to me as breathing? I had never been much of a liar until now, not even when I was still struggling with my own identity and sexuality. To tell the truth, my father was the very first person to whom I came out when I had finally come to terms with the fact that I was gay. You would think that after that, I would be able to tell him anything. But coming out was much different from telling him that I was now an undercover agent in a biker gang. So why was it easier to lie and deflect rather than tell him the truth?
Well, there’s still one thing that I know for certain: being an undercover asset sucks. No if, no buts. It just plain sucks.